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I'm actually a native speaker but I'm wondering if the fine folks here could help me with this usage that is baffling me of late.

When waiting in line to buy a coffee or pay for something at the grocery store or the like, the folks running the register have started to say "I can help the following customer over here" or "may I help the following customer please?". Emphasis mine.

To me, the following anything should be followed by an explicit list of those persons to whom the person is referring. Like at the airport you'll hear "will the following passengers please report to the customer service desk: John Doe, Jane Roe, ...".

Is the anonymous form I'm hearing with greater regularity valid?
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Comments  
Hi,

Is the anonymous form I'm hearing with greater regularity valid?

No. It's terrible English. They should, of course, say 'the next customer'.

Clive
Ha, I just googled that because it has been irritating me as well. And now you hear it everywhere...the bank, starbucks, and any other customer service driven business... what is wrong with these people??
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I think this is just a NYC thing, right? God, I hope so. It is horribly ignorant and now generations of immigrants and young people will be cursed to repeat this usage. I guess this is an example of how language "evolves." Last week, I asked the nice young cashier at Financier on Stone Street why she says "following customer." She replied that she was trained this way because saying "next" sounds rude and unwelcoming. This reinforces a similar conversation I had with a cashier at Bed, Bath, and Beyond on Broadway in the UWS in which she indicated she, too, was trained to say this. I don't agree that saying "next customer" is rude. Will the customer service trainers please stop this?
It drives me crazy and its wrong! As someone else said, managers at these establishments are telling their employees to say "following customer". The first time i heard it was at a Gap, and it seemed to quickly spread to Starbucks and then other places. I asked an employee at Financier on William street why the staff said it that way, and he told me their manager told them they were supposed to. I got the same response at a Gap. I wonder if it has spread beyond NYC. Maybe good English speakers should start a campaign to say something every time they hear it and try to stamp it out!
Sorry, folks, but I see absolutely nothing either grammatically or semantically wrong with using 'the following customer', even though Clive is absolutely right that 'the next customer' is what is most usual. Personally, I'm lovin' it!
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Unfortunately, I don't think it is grammaticaly incorrect, but it does grate the ear anyway. I think the reason is that it sounds like an attempt by the speaker to sound more sophisticated. It's a NYC quirk similar to "on line" instead of "in line". If you really want to really feel that fingernails on a chalk board feeling, wait until you hear, "I can help the following customer on line."
It drives me crazy also. I think it is a New York City thing, and I have to believe cashiers have been instructed by management to use it. I've also heard "following guest" instead of "customer", which is even more convoluted. I can't believe that cashiers on their own would come up with such silliness. Does anyone know more about this? I'll be asking the following cashier I encounter who uses it about this.
I drives me crazy too and I'm no expert but I really don't think it's correct. I travel a lot but only hear it in NYC. I think Duane Reade is the worst.
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